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Nigeria vs Benin: A Review of Nigeria's U-21 3-1 Wafu B Cup Final Triumph

It is no longer news that the Bosso-tutured Flying Eagles wrote their names in the stars yesterday by winning this year’s instalment of the Wafu Zone B Cup after battering Benin with a bruising 3:1 score line. The rewards are starting to pour in as the all conquering and victorious young Nigerian knights in their shining armours will be hosted at the round table of the controversial sports minister after they touch down in Abuja. Afterwards, I expect several other prizes, awards, recognitions, accolades and encomiums to come their way individually and collectively in the coming weeks. It only goes to show any footballer male or female representing Nigeria at any level that success will be rightly and roundly recognised and rewarded regardless of the calibre of the competition. And for me as a fan, it was a thoroughly rewarding odyssey to have watched all of the matches and offer my comments, critique and insights. I have always had guarded faith in Ladan Bosso’s coaching credentials and abilities after taking the time to painstakingly watch and study some of the historical Flying Eagles matches he presided over . I still didn’t expect him to win this tournament but I expected the team to at least push for the final whilst giving a good account of themselves. In the same tournament in 2020, although Bosso’s Flying Eagles crashed out in the group stage, I thought their brand of football was compelling, discernible, positive, vibrant and slightly innovative. With more drills and preparations amid better pitches and favourable officiating, I thought they could have gone far in that tournament. Which leads me neatly into my observations for yesterday’s final against Benin. Even as a Nigerian, I vehemently condemn the officiating that gifted us our first goal. I have watched and re-watched that scenario and couldn’t for the life of me see where Benin’s Mahougnon Aloya touched the ball inside the 18 yard box. Even if he did, it should have at least been seen as an error but to add insult to injury, the poor Beninoise defender was handed his walking papers before Ojo expertly dispatched the penalty kick to give Nigeria a 1:0 lead in the 40th minute. Now, before the goal, the Flying Eagles were going about their business with such ruthless efficiency (like a green snake under green grass) that it was easy not to notice how effective they were with the naked eye. Also, because the Benin players were playing with such flair and flamboyance, it dimmed what the Flying Eagles were surreptitiously accomplishing. It was the Benin players that were thrilling and entertaining the crowd with their individual skills, silky moves and overall artistry while Bosso’s Nigeria played the game like a strategy-driven game of chess. Benin undoubtedly had style, while Nigeria held substance. And this could be seen quite early on in 9 minutes when Ibrahim Mohammed powered his way into the opposing 18 yard box before cleverly deploying a beautiful back heel pass that took 3 Beninoise totally out of the picture only for Olubi’s low drive to be saved by the goalkeeper. Even that early in the match, the Flying Eagles showed that they were evolving into a well oiled, well drilled machine with near telepathic communications among them. They well gelling and the chemistry that will come to define their approach and help conceive their goals was becoming evident. This was a team that was finally showing much refinement. Benin on their part were beautiful and elegant on the ball with much savoir-faire. Their individual moves drew appreciation, applause and chanting from the crowd as their touches, dribbles, nimble movements and drives were hailed but the Flying Eagles remained unperturbed. Bosso’s boys had a job to do and they didn’t need to do it with such poise, opulence or grandiloquence. They just needed to get their rehearsed routines right and they needed to stay focused to get the job done (chikena!). So, in 16 minutes, a sequence of passes from the Flying Eagles got me up my seat to applaud them before the final long range shot was blasted to the heavens. From the left, the number 20 breezed forward to pass to Mohammed who lays it first time to the number 18 who then executed the cleanest one-two pass you will ever see with the number 9 before laying it to the number 10 who blazed high and wide from just outside the 18 yard box. With Nigerians flooding the area, perhaps another pass to the left winger who had nobody marking him could have resulted in a cross into a delicate area that would have caused headaches to the Beninoise. Even the sequence of events that led to Nigeria’s contentious penalty and 1st goal in 40 minutes saw a throw-in from Nigeria’s half worked patiently and methodically (with intent) into Benin’s half before a sweeping leg movement and a delicious through pass led to the cross inside the 18 yard box that left the Beninoise defenders gasping for air and scrambling on the floor before one of them was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball. After Nigeria’s goal, the match became a little bit tetchy and ill tempered as the Beninoise wanted a Nigerian sent off. As the half wore on, Benin remained vibrant and entertaining without necessarily being enterprising. They danced and waltzed across the pitch with grace and elegance but their attempts at hurting Nigeria were fully curtailed by the less entertaining but most enterprising and resolute Flying Eagles. Benin held possession for some period and whipped some decent crosses into delicate Nigerian areas. They had freekicks and one of their headers drew a save from goalkeeper Nwosu (who lost his head at one point when he ran out of his area to no-man’s land). But in truth, Nigeria won the tactical battle. Our boys created the most compelling goal scoring opportunities and defensively, they withstood aggression of the Beninoise. The Highlights of the second half were the 2 unbelievable long range shots that powered Nigeria to unequivocal and emphatic victory before Benin’s beautiful consolation goal later on. Again, before Ojo’s 25 yard screamer in 70 minutes, the ball had been worked slowly, succinctly, systematically and meticulously from Nigeria’s part of the pitch with passes weaved together by no less than 6 Flying Eagles players before Ojo delivered the punch-line with a ferocious blast that tore into the roof of the net from way outside the 18 yard box. And then in 77 minutes Ibrahim Mohammed bent a beauty of a shot past the stranded and later disconsolate goalkeeper from an identical distance with Ojo’s goal following a failed attempt by the Beninoise to play it out from the back. Top marks to Mohammed for the technique applied to that finish. The significance sat behind those 2 Nigerian goals can never be overstated as Bosso has been experimenting with long range shots as a lethal and effective feature of his overall tactical approach for such a long time. I am happy for him that “practice has made perfect” when it mattered the most. With the Flying Eagles now riding high with 3 unassailable goals, Ojo was munificent deep inside opposition 18 yard box in 80 minutes in checking back and laying it on a plate for Mohammed who sadly blazed high and wide. Again, another neat sequence of passing interplay led to that missed opportunity. Benin showed Ibrahim how it is done by scoring from a near similar scenario for their consolation goal in 83 minutes. But for them, it was too little too late – Nigeria 3: Benin 1. Looking at how our players applied themselves in this tournament, they showed me that flair and flamboyance do not win matches. Focus, concentration and killer instincts do. Bosso’s boys were in sync and in tune with the possibilities inherent in their manager’s approach and instruction. They played with heart, determination and desire throughout the tournament. Crucially they evolved as the tournament wore on and Bosso adapted his approach based on the opposition in front of his team. They did have some contentious decisions go their way but in truth, they deserved all their results through the force of their physicality and strength of their football intellect. They definitely gave us Nigeria fans a bang for our bucks in this tournament! Sent from Mail for Windows

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